The giant panda faces multiple threats to the survival of the species. These threats fall into two categories: biotic (related to life) and abiotic (natural and environmental). By approaching these two types of danger independently, researchers hope to provide the giant pandas with habitats that encourage growth for the animals. It may be of some interest to note that the giant panda is the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund and has been since its inception in 1961.
Biotic Factor #1: Fertility
The female giant panda is only able to mate once a year, during a two-day estrous cycle. Complicating matters even more, it is difficult to get giant pandas to mate in captivity. In the wild, researchers are baffled by an unusually high infertility rate, contributing to the decline of the species as fewer reproductions are viable.
Biotic Factor #2: Human Population Expansion
Due almost entirely to human population expansion, more than 40 percent of the giant panda's terrain has been transformed into other uses. The remaining habitats are now protected, but are often divided from one another, preventing the animals from moving about to find acceptable mating companions or sufficient food for rearing panda cubs.
Biotic Factor #3: Food Supply
Human farming and forestry have eliminated large tracts of the bamboo that comprises the sole food source of the giant panda. Since very little lowland habitat has been reserved for giant pandas, it is often difficult to find enough food on mountain slopes during winter conditions. Inability to care for young pandas results in a higher mortality rate and encourages a further decline in female fertility.
Abiotic Factor #1: Pollution
Chemicals in the atmosphere are a contributing factor to snow melt, but can also be directly linked to other problems as well. Depending on the contaminants involved, industrial pollution may even contain harmful elements such as mercury which have serious consequences for panda reproduction.
Abiotic Factor #2: Natural Disasters
Earthquakes, flood and fires are also serious threats to the giant panda population. Confined as they are to non-populated areas, the animals may have no escape from fires or floods. Additionally, natural disasters in the densely populated human centers often result in human migrations into the panda's terrain, creating competition for resources.
Abiotic Factor #3: Climate Changes
Human induced or not, global warming has implications that affect every animal on the planet, including the giant panda. As the climate within panda habitats increases or decreases, the food supply will be affected, resulting in the loss of more and more of the bamboo pandas rely on for food. Additionally, many researchers believe that temperature increases or decreases could result in a further inability to reproduce or have a damaging influence on other aspects of the animals' life cycle.
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